(c) Neil D’Silva
“We will find your wife soon,” said the Inspector. “But, tell me, Mr. Vishwas, did you both have a fight?”
“Of course, not!” said Vishwas, wiping away his tears. “Why should I fight? I love every bit of her.”
After the Inspector left, the tears dried up too. Vishwas went to his cafe downstairs, opened the icebox, and put the last finger on a dinner plate.
“Really,” he sniffled looking at it. “I love every bit of her.”
Paresh hadn’t laughed this hard in a long time.
Rolling on the bed of his honeymoon suite, he told his new wife, “I’ve married a sissy! It was just a ‘Boo!’ and how you jumped in that bridal dress! What a riot!”
He laughed for long minutes till he realized she was miffed. “Sorry,” he then said to her, holding back the last vestiges of his laughter. “I hope you aren’t pissed.”
“No,” she said, still sulking.
“I have a sense of humor. Don’t worry.”
Still shivering with laughter, he took off his shirt, and sat next to her.
That was when the laughter stopped.
For he found that her nails, which were somehow long talons now, were pierced into his back; and her eyes were now glassy and lifeless, with which she looked down upon his rapidly draining face.
“And this is the final joke,” a hiss came out of her.
Little Alex tiptoed into the house and looked for his mother. She saw him first though.
“Alex!” she boomed. “I saw you speaking with that old Mrs. Jenkins again.”
Alex, now caught, stood firm. “Why should I not, mother?”
His chubby face always softened Pearl, whatever mood she was in. Kneeling beside her son, she told him, “Alex, dear! Okay, let me tell you. People say Mrs. Jenkins is a witch. She does something to little boys like you and turns them into ugly giant rats with furry tails.”
Alex stared at her with his blackberry eyes.
“It’s okay, Alex,” said Pearl. “As long as you don’t go to her anymore. Don’t eat anything she ever gives you.”
That was when Alex felt the itch in his lower back, and when his fingers went there, he felt the little knob of hair.
He slowly let the chocolate wrapper drop from his other hand.
“Rats!” he exclaimed to his befuddled mother.
The article finally over, Marsha shut her laptop. Before tucking herself into bed, she went to check on her ten-year-old. She opened his door only a crack and was appalled. Striding right in, she yanked the teddy off his arms.
Ronny stirred awake. “Mumma? What?”
“What’s with the teddy bear?” Marsha yelled. “Aren’t you getting too old for this?”
“But, mumma,” he said, “Teddy is feeling scared.”
Without stopping for an answer, Marsha strode out just as she had come in, the teddy dangling from her hand. Throwing it on the floor of her room, she stepped into her bed.
It was in the middle of the night that she was roused awake.
She rubbed her eyes and saw the fluffy brown mass of the teddy bear – clipped ear, broken eye, and all – with its arm around her midriff.
“Mumma,” came a hoarse voice from its twisted mouth. “I really do get scared.”
Girish had begun to love his new rental flat. The TV blaring in the neighbors’ house kept him entertained. The thin walls had actually proven to be a blessing in disguise.
Most times, the TV blared songs of the Golden Age of the 60s, the time when he grew up as a lonely child. Notes of sad retro songs wafted into his room like someone were massaging his tired head. At times the songs were happy, which enlivened him, and sometimes they were inspiring, and he found himself shaking his limbs to them.
As the days went by, he felt his mood attuning itself to the emotions of the songs. It was as if the songs spoke to him.
After the first month, the landlord came to collect the rent. “I hope you are not feeling lonely here,” he said.
“Not at all,” said Girish. “The neighbor’s TV keeps me entertained.”
“What neighbors?” asked the landlord then, the color draining from his face. “No one has stayed there since ten years, since the old couple was found hanging from the ceiling.”
But Girish would not believe him. From somewhere, faint strains of an age-old song of loneliness pierced into his head and adamantly refused to leave it.